I recently saw video clip featuring Alistair Begg describing different types of preachers—poor preachers: The Cheerleader (always looking applause), The Conjuror (pulling things out of the text which aren’t there), The Storyteller (lots of stories; little teaching), The Entertainer (the Bible isn’t enough, jokes, tricks, singing, dancing from the preacher are needed), The Systematiser (the text is merely the backdrop for hanging a doctrinal lecture on), The Psychologist (purveyors of helpful insight not necessarily from the Bible), The Naked Preacher (too much information about the preacher’s faults or personal life). Someone had taken the piece Begg had done and interspersed it with clips of some of the worst examples of so-called preachers. It was tragic.
But the video clips were easy pickings. It’s easy to point the finger at the flaws of those outside our camp (some perhaps even outside the gospel), but poor preaching can find a place closer to home.
I want to point out a few other types of Preacher, or preaching styles which we can slip into, but fall short of the mark in varying ways. They are easy traps to fall into (and I fall into some of them), and they are sometimes the result of not spending enough time working on the sermon—settling for less, when we should aim for more. At other times they are the result of a wrong view of preaching.
The Biblical Legalist–Not your average legalist, this preacher preaches the gospel with clarity, but when it comes to the commands of scripture he divorces them from the gospel. It can be a faithful expounding of a passage, but removed from the context of the gospel. It leaves people knowing what to do, but without the motivation to do it—simply a sense of ‘I must do better’. The old question of “Would I have heard anything different in a mosque or a synagogue?’ applies.
The Batterer - A sub-category of the above, but worse. Battering the people with ‘try harder’ in the Christian life. It is all law and no gospel. It might be very faithful application, but it is neither connected to, nor rooted in Christ—apart perhaps from an arbitrary call to repentance and faith. Instead you are threatened or castigated into obedience—week after week. The preacher can feel very ‘righteous’ and the congregation can feel suitably chastised, but such flagellation doesn’t grow grace, and I don’t think it’s even that effective at killing the weeds that spring up in our hearts. I have heard challenges to pray more, and even to preach the gospel, done in this style. We feel guilty and change for a time, but the heart changing motivation of grace isn’t there.
The Wall-builder – He creates an ‘us and them’ mentality with his preaching. Characterised by always going on about the wickedness out there, never pointing out the wickedness in here—in the heart. He trains his people to be combative towards the world, and suspicious of everything it is doing, whilst ignoring the enemy within. His people are always on the defensive, always angry at the world, always suspicious of other Christians. This preaching also picks on the easy targets out there, forgetting that there may be people present who have issues in these areas. A wall is built making the church member feel secure, and the outsider feel unwelcome. Always preach as if the windows are open.
The Teacher – Characterised by the phrase, "Today I want to teach you from the Bible". Preaching is teaching, but more than teaching. It is a proclamation, it is living, it is direct. This sort of preaching leaves you knowing what the passage means, but hasn't worked it into your life. I once talked with a couple of people who had sat under this sort of ministry—plenty of knowledge, but little in-depth sense of practical Christian living.
The Running Commentary- A variety of the above, but not as well packaged. Familiar phrases will be, “v14 means this… and in v15 we have...” The Preacher has done all the homework, but forgot to turn it into a sermon.
The 'Take it or Leave it' preacher – Often in churches with a large nominal attendance. He sets the gospel (or any of the applications) on the table, but doesn't urge or press it upon the hearers. It’s there if you want it. Doesn't show the urgency of accepting, or the offence of ignoring the gospel. It’s your job to present with authority—a preacher is an ambassador speaking on behalf of the king, not a ‘handy hints’ guru.
The Dismantler – The preacher is a brilliant atomiser of the text or passage. It has been carefully dissected into all its component parts, each part described and neatly displayed like something in a biology lab. But now the living text lies lifeless on the dissection table. It lacks the life and the heartbeat it once had. It no longer embraces, or roars. If the text is a lion we should hear it roar. If it is a rose we should smell its sweet scent.
There are other faults we preachers are guilty of—being boring, being too long, bring too simple, being too heavy, not preaching to the people in front of us, using stereotypes or tropes in our application, overstuffing the sermon, showing all our research… etc., etc.
I suspect each of us preachers have a particular default failure in our preaching which is a caricature of real preaching. We need to know which is it, and how to recognise it, and work harder to avoid the pitfalls—lest we begin to think that the way we do it badly is the right way. Work hard at your craft, my brothers.
And most of all, we need to pray that the Holy Spirit will take and use our always imperfect efforts for Christ’s glory. And if you are sitting in the pew, pray much for your pastor.